On first glance, Billy Budd is little more than a sea story involving a sailor wrongly accused of mutiny. However, upon closer examination, one observes that Melville s novel possesses a deeper significance. Melville presents the protagonist, Billy as a handsome, young sailor. Nonetheless, Billy Budd can be seen as a Christ-figure through his experiences with Captain Vere, Claggert and his crewmembers aboard the Bellipotent.
As the novel begins, Melville characterizes Billy as Christ-like figure. His eyes are of a blue shade that resembles the clear waters of the world. The same can be seen in the eyes of Jesus Christ, which were of a pure blue hue. They were so pure and gentle that just the sight of his eyes mesmerized people. Billy s body is even Christ-like in structure as it is described as symmetrical in figure . This resembles the body of Jesus as he is seen on crucifixes with a heavenly body of a muscular nature. Billy s face also becomes Like that of a Christ-figure while it is beamed with barbaric good humor under the hot July sky. This overall appearance causes Billy to be known as the Handsome Sailor . He is faultless in appearance and resembles Jesus Christ. He is pure, youthful and innocent complexion.
When Billy is confronted with Claggert a Christ-like ambiance is created. In the Bible, Jesus Christ is wrongly accused of subverting Jewish authority through his preaching and he is sentenced to crucifixion. This resembles when Billy is accused of being the leader of a mutiny aboard the Bellipotent. Claggert represents Roman authority and he is against Billy s practices aboard the ship. As Billy is being accused in this scene, Melville describes that Billy s face held an expression which was a crucifixion to behold (a quote foreshadowing Billy s death). Both Billy and Jesus were very pure and had good intent in their lives, however they were both wrongly accused of a crime and this leads to their death.
As Billy boards the Bellipotent the Christ-like side of him seems to set forth throughout the rest of the novel. Billy is not the greatest sailor in the world; however, his shipmates seem to love him because of his good nature. This is similar to Jesus, whose good nature allowed him to become friendly with people and preach his religion. According to his captain, Billy is not a good sailor, but a peacemaker like a Catholic-priest Billy s peaceful spirit allows him to become great friends with his crew members similar to how Christ s peaceful character allowed him to become affable with those who he met and preached his religion to. Furthermore, aboard the ship Billy earns the position of foretop man and he watches over all of the ship s happenings. His position is located on the highest point of the Bellipotent. It is as if Billy s position is allowing him to reach closer to heaven, which is the realm of Jesus Christ.
Finally, the Christ-like attributes of Billy Budd come to life as Billy is subjected to execution at the end of the novel. As Billy is hung, a solitary white cloud hangs in the sky as to represent the purity that Billy creates around him. His shipmates stretch across the ship watching Billy in his final moments of life. Billy yells God-bless Captain Vere as he dies and then all is silent. In a crucifix-like death Billy loses his life. This is similar to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ from the Bible. Before Jesus died he yelled My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? It is a blessing to God, which resembles the blessing Billy gives to Captain Vere. Also, as Jesus dies a thick curtain is present which conceals the holiest of holy men. But as Jesus dies the curtain rips open revaling the holy men. This is comparable to the cloud, which hangs over Billy as he dies. After Billy dies the clouds opens to reveal the sun (a symbol of the Holy Men). In addition, Billy ascends on his crucifix like deathbed with a soft glory as of the fleece of the Lamb of God seen in mystical vision . It is so metaphorical that you can only think of Christ. Also, in the chapter we never really know that Billy is dead but he rises off the yardarm and ascends like an angel. It is as if he is arriving to that pure, white clouded home waiting for him in the sky. When he ascends he is described as taking the full rose of dawn. It is the same rise that accompanied Christ as he dies in the early dawn upon his crucifix. However, Billy s crucifix is this yardarm. He is full of divinity upon its structure and his crewmembers that have become his disciples watch in awe and they realize they have lost someone amazing.
The young man who boarded the Bellipotent may have seemed like a normal sailor at first. However, In Herman Melville s story, Billy Budd, Billy Budd becomes a great symbol to his captain and his crewmembers aboard the ship. He is not an ordinary figure but he becomes a Christ-like figure who is as pure as any man could be. These Christ-like attributes are seen throughout the novel and even as Billy Budd dies upon the yardarm he encompasses all the symbols of Jesus Christ.